CalTopo FAQs

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While these questions are also answered in the individual articles for each topic, we added these FAQs as a quick reference. If your question is not answered here, refer to the full article or lesson on the topic.

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For a list of the individual subscriptions offered and the features of each, please visit this page.

How do I register for an account?

Log in to the program using any of the account types listed. This creates the account.

Your initial login to CalTopo creates the account. Log in to the program with an existing login from one of the providers listed. This creates the account. Keep in mind that you need to log in with the same login and account provider each time in order to access any data you have saved to that account.

Using a different login type will create a second account, even if you use the same email address for both accounts. For example, logging in with Google one time and Yahoo another time will create two accounts. You can later link the logins if you choose.

Can I upgrade or downgrade my subscription to some other level of subscription?

You the subscription level for your account subscription yourself at any time. When upgrading, the charge will prorate to accommodate your previous purchase. When downgrading, it will set the change to happen when your annual renewal date comes up.

Why do I have to login?

When you want to create, share, or use a map between sessions we have to know who you are. We use a unique identifier to associate your saved account information back to your login.

On the app, we require all users to login because of how integral checking permissions for downloading map layers and access to layers are. At some point in the future we may allow a guest account on the app that can't save maps and doesn't need a login, but at this point we don't support this, except in for team-account-based temporary sub teams.

Why can't I just create a username/password for CalTopo?

Developing safe and secure login practices, storage of passwords, verification of identity for reset or account or passwords all take a large amount of time, development effort and money. We went with an open protocol for verifying user identity called OpenID to ensure that this process was safe and cost effective.

What is OpenID?

The protocol used is OpenID, which facilitates verification of a user by established login procedures, its used by several major tech companies. It is validated, secure, and well supported.

Is my Google, Yahoo, etc, account now linked to CalTopo?

CalTopo receives an electronic identifying information that is unique to the user, it could be a number/letter string or an e-mail address. We use that unique ID to set up your CalTopo account. We cannot see your e-mail account, your fantasy football team, or any information saved with that group.

Can I create an account just to login and use CalTopo?

Absolutely, you can create a free account on Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, etc. and use that account to login to CalTopo, it doesn't have to be your primary user name with that service. Just make sure you set up a way to recover your password with that service, we are not able to reset your password with an external service.

Can CalTopo see my user/name or password for these outside services?

Nope! CalTopo only sees that the authentication was completed, and a unique user ID for you and your e-mail address (used to identify you as a customer and your account).

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How do I use CalTopo?

Start with the Getting Started Guide to learn the basic concepts of CalTopo.

What is a map?

In the CalTopo Map Viewer, you see a map on the screen when you open it. Perhaps counterintuitively, this is not called a Map. This is the base layer. You can zoom in/out, pan (move the map laterally), and choose which base layer you want to see from the menu. These base layers contain a lot of different types of information. See the Layers Lessons for more details about these background images.

I'm a first responder. Where do I find SARTopo

Since we merged the CalTopo and SARTopo servers in December 2021, first responders who wish to access the additional first responder specific tools (like assignments and clues) no longer need to log into a different server.

All users (including first responders) now log into CalTopo and the first responder specific tools are tied to the map mode. More information on map mode can be found in the Save Your Map section.

Where is CalTopo available? What layers are available in my country?

MapBuilder Topo, MapBuilder Hybrid and Global Imagery are now available worldwide! If you have mobile, pro, desktop or team subscription, you can also download them for offline use anywhere in the world.

Coverage for other layers varies by country. Your best bet is to navigate to the country you are interested in and switch between layers in the map viewer and the Download Layers screen on the mobile app to check what is currently available for that area. We intend to continue adding coverage for more countries over time, but we don’t have any specific timelines for availability.

Is there an email list for when new features are added?

We have a monthly mailer that includes updates and other notices. It is not a comprehensive summary of all the changes. Sign up for the email list here.

Where do I suggest a feature?

Email us at or post it in the Discussion forum.

How does your program compare to ...?

We are not familiar with every other mapping service out there. We suggest that you play around with our program and view our Getting Started guide to get an idea of what the program can do.

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How do I save a map?

Maps can be saved once you are logged in and have added at least one object to the map. You cannot save a blank map.

To save the map, after adding an object, a green save icon appears on the left side of the map viewer, near the objects menu. Click this to open the box to name the map and set access permissions. Click OK to save the map. The page will reload.

More details here.

How do I download maps?

Most of the time, you do not need to download base layer (map images) to use the program. However, if you go into areas without internet or cell service, you have the following options:

  • Mobile App: In the CalTopo App with at least a Mobile Subscription: You can download base layers and sync your maps. Remember, base layers are the background, and your maps are the objects you create (markers, tracks, lines, etc.). Use the three-bar menu in the upper left corner of the app to find the Download Layers area as well as the Your Maps area. Go here for details on downloading maps to your mobile device.
  • Desktop Offline: With a Desktop or Team subscription, you can install CalTopo onto your hard drive, and download maps for when your computer does not have internet access. Details here.

I noticed a feature in your base layer map images is wrong or missing. Can you fix it?

We gather our data from external sources in order to display layers as they come or to build layers such as MapBuilder. Therefore, we do not edit the map images ourselves. For some layers, such as MapBuilder Topo, or the MapBuilder Overlay, we use data from Open Street Map (OSM). OSM relies on crowd sourcing to build and edit its map database. You can visit OSM and edit the map data there to add or correct roads or trails. A few times a year, CalTopo pulls updated information from OSM. Thus if you make edits there, you may soon see them on CalTopo.

How do I find a certain trail/peak/lake/feature?

The search function in CalTopo is robust. Search for your feature by name or coordinates in the search bar at the top of the Map Viewer. You may choose to include other identifying information such as state or county to help narrow down places that have common names, such as Bridalveil Falls.

How do I rename a map file?

Click on the info icon on the left side of the map viewer. At the top of the dialog box that opens, you can edit the map name. If you don’t see the map name box, you likely haven’t saved your map yet.

How often does the map auto save?

After the initial save, assuming you have a consistent network connection, the map autosaves every time you update something.

Is the map saved to the cloud?


Can I revert to a particular save? Recover deleted objects?

Anytime you try to delete a map object or map, a dialog box appears that asks if you are sure you want to delete whatever object is selected. Make sure you want to delete something before you do it! There is no way to recover deleted objects.

Why is my map slow?

Maps can be slow at times for a variety of reasons. The most common causes of slow maps are labels, a large amount of data on the map, layers that require calculations (such as the sun exposure overlay) and specialty line types. Sometimes clearing cookies on your browser will improve map performance, especially for the snap-to tool.

How do I view an elevation profile between points?

One way is to use the measure tools.

Another way is to create a line, then view the elevation profile of that line.

I can’t find my map/ All my maps are gone.

This almost always happens because you are not logged in to the account that you think you are. Check that you have logged in via the method you intended (Google, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook) and with the correct email address. Logging in with the wrong method will open a different or new account.

Where is the legend? What does this or that feature mean?

Some layers feature legends, but many do not. If one is available, these are usually displayed in the lower left hand side of the map viewer. For MapBuilder layers, turn on the MapBuilder Features overlay to select the item that you need more information about.

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How do I find my printed maps?

Click on the Your Data button in the upper right of the window (make sure you are logged in) to open Your Data. Look for the “Your PDFs” tab. Your printed maps will be listed there if they have not expired.

Can you print the slope angle color code?

Not at this time.

Why is my PDF blurry?

Several choices can lead to blurry prints. Anything with a very small scale is not supported in print. For example trying to print at 1:2000 or 1:600 will never print well.

Imagery layers are particuarly hard to print. In the continental US, we are in the process of updating our images (as of May 2021) to better enable print. Outside the US, the Global Imagery layer will only print down to zoom level 12.

How do I order a paper map?

We partner with for printing paper maps on robust paper that can be used in the wildlands. THe full process is described in this lesson.

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I heard passwords are going away. What is replacing passwords?

We are in the process of moving away from passwords and the primary way of allowing edit access to a map. Going forward, you will create a special link depending on the type of access you wish to allow: read, update, or write. For a full explanation of these features, read the Map Sharing Lesson.

What do the different sharing permissions do?

Read the lesson on sharing permissions for a clear description.

If two or more people are editing the same map, do we have to use the same base layers and view?

No, each user can select the base layers and overlays that they need to work with.

If someone else is looking at or editing the same map as I am, will my edits show up on the other map?

Yes, edits will propagate in real time.

What happens if two people edit the same object at the same time?

You should try to avoid this.

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How does the program handle Datum changes?

Read more here. You can choose the datum that you would like to operate in from the Settings Menu. When importing tracks or points, you do not need to ensure that the import objects were recorded in the same datum as your settings. CalTopo will adjust the display of the object to match your chosen datum. Similarly, CalTopo App users do not need to be set in the same datum as your map - the program will display objects correctly regardless of how the object is recorded.

The only time you need to check datum is when verbally communicating coordinates.

How do I change the format of labels? Can I rotate them? Change size/color/font?

The label display options currently permitted can be adjusted through the Settings menu in the top bar of the page. You can turn labels on/off altogether or by folder. These are the only label options CalTopo currently offers.

Can I add text to my map without a marker?

Not at this time. For now, consider making a marker with a tiny dot for the icon. The label will be visible but you will hardly see the dot.

Can I add a photo to my map or to a marker?

Not at this time.

Can I change contour lines colors?

The contour lines overlay is not customizable. However if you have a desktop or team account, you can create custom MapBuilder Layers in which you can adjust certain aspects of how contour lines are displayed, such as color.

How do I change to metric?

Use the settings menu to change your measurement unit options.

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Where do I find a description of all the layers? The overlays?

Layer Descriptions

Overlay Descriptions

Can I create my own preset layers?

Not at this time.

Can I create a custom layer or import a layer?

Yes. CalTopo offers several options to create layers within the program, or to import additional layers from outside sources, depending on the format. Some types of custom layers do require a subscription. See the Layers Lessons for full details.

Which direction is the wind going in wind plot?

From the narrow end to the fat end of the streaks. Think of it like a comet, where the head of the comet is the direction of travel.

Can I see previous days/weeks/months of satellite data?

Yes, use the drop down menus at the top of the layer menu when the layer is activated.

What elevation off the ground is the wind data representing?

2 meters.

What is the resolution of the Sentinel Weekly High Res layer?

The Weekly High Res layer is a satellite image with a horizontal resolution of 10m.

Can I add my drone images as a layer?

Yes, but need a Desktop or Team subscription to do so, and you will have to tile and reference them. The full process is explained in detail in the MapBox lesson.

Do you have maps from this provider? Can you add them?

We have put a lot of thought into choosing the layers we include in the program. At this time we are working to expand our coverage in new countries, rather than adding additional layers to our current list. If you aren’t finding what you are looking for, you can often add the layers to your own account yourself.

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Objects and Drawing

What is Snap-To, how do I find it, and are there any tricks and tips?

The Snap To tool allows you to trace map features quickly and accurately. It automatically turns on when you create or edit an object. You can change what type of feature it selects from either the Config menu or the SnapTo tool drop menu in the upper left of the map viewer. Read the relevant section of the Lines and Polygons lesson for more details.

Is there snap to in the mobile app?

Not at this time.

Can I see which user added an object to a shared map?

Not at this time.

How do I add a custom icon?

Custom icons can be added via an html link if they are hosted on the web. While editing a marker, open the icon choice box and enter the URL of the icon you want in the input field at the bottom of this box.

Users who have a pro or higher subscription can upload custom icons and save them to their account. Click on your login ID in the upper left to open your account. Go to the “Your Icons” tab to upload your icon image.

How do I see the acreage of an area?

Click on the item on the map or in the left menu bar. A box will appear and basic information such as area will be listed at the top, under the name of the item.

How do you change the opacity of the polygon?

Open the object editor by clicking on the item. In the edit menu, find the box that allows you to enter the opacity value.

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First Response

How do I apply for a First Responder upgrade?

Go to this page and submit your credentials there via the form.

Can you make assignments custom colors?

Assignment colors are based on Op Period or status. You can use the Display Options at the bottom of each folder to choose from different types of color schemes.

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Mobile App

What is the app called? How do I download it?

Our app is called CalTopo. You can download it for free from the Google Play or Apple Store.

Can you share from the app?

Yes. There are various ways to share from the mobile app. Please go to the Sharing and Collaboration lesson on Map Sharing.

Can I print from the app?

Not at this time. Use a web browser to create PDFs for printing.

My tracking stops when I exit the app.

Triple check that your battery saver is off, and that CalTopo has full access to use your battery. Especially on Android devices, the battery saving functions will interfere with the app tracking.

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